Cutting ties with religious problems

I have jury duty this week, so I don’t know if or when I’ll be able to blog.

We’ll see how it goes.

images.jpegSo, Obama has ended his two-decade membership at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Beside the whole Jeremiah Wright flap, he’s apparently unhappy with a recent appearance by the social activist Catholic priest, the Rev. Michael Pfleger (that’s him), who mimicked Sen. Clinton crying over “a black man stealing my show.”

images1.jpegAnd John McCain has, of course, regurgitated the endorsements of televangelists John Hagee and Rod Parsley (and him).

So many troubling religious connections. I’m surprised Sen. Clinton hasn’t trotted out some mild-mannered Methodist minister to show off as a righteous religious mentor.

The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, head of the moderate/liberal Interfaith Alliance, send the following note to the 3 candidates:

While I appreciate your decisions to distance yourself from the harmful rhetoric from people like Father Pfleger, Rev. Hagee and Rev. Parsley you share some of the responsibility. You have all gone after endorsements of clergy, and I sense that you are now having some buyer’s remorse. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t continue to use clergy as political props when they serve your purpose, and then discard them when they no longer fit your image.

The clergy who have endorsed you share some responsibility. They open themselves up to criticism when they make political endorsements. The more the pulpit is treated as a stump for partisan politics the more clergy will be caricatured as cartoon figures. Houses of worship will be considered just like other institutions interested in power regardless of its cost. And politics and faith will be confused to an extent that harms both religion and democracy. When will it end? It must end soon or people will be fed up with politics and religion.

I ask you all to stop seeking clergy endorsements from the pulpit, and stop using religion as a political tool.

In the coming months, I hope you will talk about the role of faith in public life in a way that is constructive. What are the boundaries for you between religion and government? What role will your faith play in creating public policy? How will you balance the principles of your faith and your obligation to defend the Constitution, particularly if the two come into conflict?

Race and religion, then and now

The Jeremiah Wright saga, no doubt, triggered a lot of talk about the state and history of the black church in the U.S.

And about the relationship between race (and racism) and religion in this country.

The AP talked to people across the country about how their experiences regarding race affect their faith (and vice versa). I don’t know how many people saw the lengthy feature, penned by Shelia Byrd and contributed to by several others, so here it is:

(NOTE: The picture, by the AP’s Frank Franklin II, is of Mother AME Zion Church in Harlem.)

Associated Press Writer

Jesse McGee points to trophies he won in local marathons. He mentions his work with youth and volunteer school programs. He praises his church’s efforts to deliver scripture lessons to inmates.

For more than an hour, the 84-year-old church deacon, who is black, chats about his life, largely ignoring the subject at hand: racism.

It isn’t until his wife, Warine, sheepishly shares that their son’s wife is white that McGee offers a confession: He had been uncomfortable with the union for nearly 30 years — until his Bible study class offered enlightenment.

His story represents a snapshot of how America’s racial landscape is navigated daily, often with religion as guidance.

The issue of race drew sharp focus as Barack Obama’s contentious split with his longtime pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, played out in a national glare. In response, the United Church of Christ and National Council of Churches USA called on 10,000 ministers to initiate a “sacred conversation on race.”

7dbe6b83df7e440fbdccceda6f485b1f.jpg“The realities of race have not been addressed adequately,” says the Rev. John Thomas, president of the UCC. “Racism continues to demean and diminish human lives in this country.”

To listen in on that conversation, Associated Press reporters across the nation engaged pastors and parishioners about their individual experiences with racism.

They talked with a choir soprano whose faith fueled her defiance of racist laws, and with members of an all-white congregation that took the risky move of hiring a black pastor. They interviewed ministers who act as a conduit between the alienated and those who would judge them.

They found personal stories, like McGee’s, where religion can soothe a painfully sensitive dialogue and help summon mutual respect.

The conversation, which grew loud and rancorous around the Wright episode, started long before and continues afterward, but in softer tones that show the faithful want to be constructive, want to make progress, want their voices heard. Listen.


The picture on the fireplace mantel at McGee’s home in Jackson, Miss., shows a young man whose cream-colored skin hints at his mixed-race heritage.

It is far more than the likeness of a grandson — the offspring of the union between McGee’s black son and white daughter-in-law. For this grandfather, the picture also is a reflection of a black man’s spiritual journey through the painful past of a Jim Crow society to acceptance and love that ended at a church altar.

It was 1972 when McGee’s son, James Brooks, told him he had done something that was unfathomable in the older man’s mind. Brooks had married a fellow graduate student at the University of Michigan — a native New Yorker, and she was white.

The young couple moved to Mississippi that year to teach at what is now Jackson State University. The campus had been the site of racial violence that left two black men dead in 1970.

From the beginning, McGee was beset with unease.

“I had to work on that one. I was raised here, and that was a no-no. I know what would happen to you here if you just looked at (a white woman),” McGee said. “I’ve gotten past that now. When we started studying about ‘one blood’ that was a big help.” Continue reading